Before I began this blog, I made a practice of posting a gratitude list every night on my Facebook page. Some nights, I could have easily typed out dozens of different things from the day, and other nights, it was an act of true discipline. I kept doing it because it was good for my heart. I know, since I’ve received God’s amazing grace in my life, that I always have many important, intangible things for which to be thankful. Deep, true, lasting joy is always there, but there are days when the joy has clouds over it and giving thanks is the last thing anyone feels like doing. It is much easier to grumble, complain, protest, or just mope.
It’s been a while since I’ve made my “top ten” lists. I still keep track in my mind, but there is something special about making it public. In a way, it holds me accountable to ending my day with the right posture. Whether it’s been an incredible day, with everyone coming home with smiles, using manners, and really loving each other generously, or it’s been a day best left on a tear-stained journal page and prayed over with my husband…either way, there is room for thanks. We have a plaque in our kitchen that displays a verse from the first letter of the apostle Paul to the Thessalonians (verse 18 of chapter 5): “…give thanks in all circumstances…”, and there have definitely been times that I’ve passed that plaque while working in the kitchen and I’ve wondered, “how in the world can I give thanks now?” I don’t want to go on and on about the multitude of possible scenarios in which it would be hard to give thanks, but I know we all have those challenges, those deep valleys, where showing gratitude to God is the last thing on our minds.
Instead of writing about being grateful in difficult circumstances, I want to focus on the importance of being grateful when things are going well. A verse in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy stood out to me when I read it during V.’s medical school days. Financially, those years were pretty lean for us, and I remember thinking, “how odd, to think of anyone forgetting about God, when it is so easy to see how He is providing for our every need–and more!” There were months when we didn’t know how certain bills would be paid, but month after month, it always worked out, often in ways that surprised us (to God be the glory). It was hard to imagine days of not having a super-tight budget, or buying items just for fun, or having to give worry and anxiety up to God in prayer over financial matters. At the time, we also hung on every bit of God’s grace to keep our young marriage strong as the rigors of medical school and then residency took their toll, leaving both of us exhausted and missing each other, in a sense. Would we ever get to a place of a more “normal” routine, with less exhaustion and more time together? The words from Deuteronomy (ch. 6, v.11-12) pierced my heart, then, as it hurt me to think that there might be a day when we forgot to lean on God or say thank you for everything: “…then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord…” The same God who was giving us everything we needed in those lean times was and is the same God who would provide for us in days of abundance.
I can say–with a grateful heart–that we are living in days as a family where we are “eating and satisfied”. A long journey of preparation has brought us to this place and time where we feel like we can breathe in many different senses, and it is good. The tangible things are just that, things, so we are thankful for them, and enjoy them, but know that they don’t make up our joy. The intangible things, perhaps we take for granted too much–family members who love each other, sacrifice for one another, pray for and with one another, bring each other happiness, enjoy being together; V.’s career, in which he gets to use skills, knowledge, and gifts that have been building up over the years. And of course, there are the things that haven’t changed, no matter what our life situation: God’s love for us, His forgiveness every time we fall short of perfection (all the time!), His provision for us. When nothing is going wrong, what is the danger in forgetting to say thank you, in acknowledging God’s role in our lives?
Part of the danger is that we start to think we can rely on ourselves: I got this job, or I bought this house with my earnings, or I earned all of this, so of course nothing is out of reach for me. Pride enters, complacency settles, boastfulness puffs us up. Not a single one of those acknowledges God. If we needed God so much “then”, why do we think for a second that we don’t need him now? In giving thanks, we remind ourselves that we are not the ones to receive the credit for all of this goodness. Anyone who has experienced the true grace of God knows that there is not a moment of life in which we don’t need that same grace!
Another part of the danger in forgetting to give thanks is that we miss out on wonderful closeness to God. The whole reason God sent Jesus to die for each and every one of us, is so that each of us can enter into a perfect father-child relationship with God himself. When we have that opportunity to draw close, but over time we drift away, we are forsaking the very best relationship we could ever enjoy. I believe that giving thanks regularly is a key to staying close to God. We remind our own hearts of all that God has done and is still doing, no matter what else is going on.
There is more to write about this, but I need more time to think it through. I will end with a gratitude list for today:
1. Time together as a family today–no school, no work, no schedule.
2. Seeing L. and A. playing together happily.
3. Watching A. fall asleep next to her Daddy at nap time.
4. Hearing L. practice piano cheerfully, and without being asked to do so.
5. Neighbors who are friends.
6. The simple delight of the kids in seeing a squirrel resting in one of our palm trees.
7. The (relative) coolness in the air after dinner.
8. A leisurely walk with the kids before bedtime.
9. A healthy, strong body that can enjoy a good home workout.
10. Peacefully sleeping kids and time to relax with V.